Perhaps we live in an age in which the question we must deal with first is, “Is it possible to practice Christ and not be poor?” Our age of self-sufficiency works well for those for whom it works well–the great tautology. For those whom it does not work that is their problem; not mine, not yours, just their problem.
Our world is the product of the self-portrait, a world where “I” am the subject of “my own” universe in which all is objectified (one need only login to MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter to understand this–the new technologies have turned everyone into an artist, and he can think of nothing better to paint than his own technological image).
In this world “human laziness makes people pigeonhole one another at first sight so they find nothing in common,” said Dostoyevsky’s Idiot.
This refusal is a renarration of self-identity as self-preservation–the preservation of a false self. We know as we are known, and if I know “you” within a specified category, then “my” identity remains securely fixed within “my” own mental construction. Until the real work of getting to know “the other,” “I” remain enclosed in the virtual realm of “my” own making. Continue Reading…
In this most interesting book, Judged by the Gospel: A Review of Adventism, Robert Brinsmead calls Adventism to consider the gospel. This book reflects the author’s personal spiritual pilgrimage, and was “written to bring my own faith under further judgment of the gospel” (p.8).
I gather, therefore, that Judged by the Gospel is designed to lovingly challenge those in “traditional Adventism.” However, its appeal, I believe, extends beyond Adventism to all evangelicals: “the gospel is a clear and certain light which must call all that we teach and do into serious and radical question” (p.7).
In my remarks on this work, I will pursue matters in the order that they appear in the book, sometimes letting Mr. Brinsmead’s words speak for themselves.
What Lies Behind the “Central Article” of Protestantism?
Brinsmead (hereafter, RDB) states, “Luther declared that justification by faith is ‘the article on which the church stands or faIls’” (p.7). However, the significance of justification by faith can only be properly comprehended on the presupposition of a biblical anthropology. This is borne out in the order Paul follows in Romans. Before opening up justification by faith (3:2lff.), he first discloses the awful plight of mankind in sin (1:18-3:20). Thus, Luther’s remark above must be connected with the sentiments he expressed to Erasmus at the conclusion of his ‘The Bondage of the Will’:
‘Moreover, I give you hearty praise and commendation on this further account — that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences and such like — trifles, rather than issues — in respect of which almost all to date have sought my blood (though without success); you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed at the vital spot’ (trans. by Packer and Johnston [Fleming Revell, 1957], p.319). Continue Reading…
2. When gathering with other believers, are the saints to be preached at or taught? Should Gospel preaching have a dominant place in our churches? Some have seen justification for “preaching” Gospel sermons in the church because of Paul’s statement to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:2, “teach and preach these principles.” However, the Greek word “preach” in this text means to exhort, entreat, or urge (cf. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977] p.482). Most translations have, therefore, rendered it this way (e.g., KJV, RSV, NIV, Amplified, Jewish NT).
It would also be difficult to see in 1 Timothy 5:17 any warrant for our practice of monologue Gospel “preaching” within the assembly. New Testament commentator, Homer A. Kent, Jr., writes: “The anarthrous form logoi (“preaching”) has reference to the general function of speech in connection with the elder’s ministry. The term didaskaliai (“teaching”) is more limited and denotes the particular aspect of teaching or instructing, as distinguished from exhorting, admonishing, comforting, and other forms of preaching” (The Pastoral Epistles [Chicago: Moody Press, 1982/Revised] p.175).
The words of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:2 (“preach the Word”), likewise, fail to support this notion of Gospel sermons in the church. Paul commands Timothy to herald or “preach” the Word and to be ready at all times to do so – whether it is convenient or not. The “Word” in this passage appears to be the proclamation of the Gospel which may or may not occur within the assembly. However, the fact that Paul later urges Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (v.5) suggests that his heralding was done primarily outside of the Christian gathering when coming into close contact with unbelievers. Continue Reading…
13. By centering our gatherings on one man and his “sermon” (which is what many evangelical churches do, even though they would never admit to it), we are, in practice, reversing the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:14 and suggesting that the body is not many members, but one (namely, the same man who preaches to us week after week). Moreover, by centering our church meetings one man’s ability to speak, we subtly begin to form a personality-cult around one man’s talents. Eventually, he becomes the final authority on spiritual and theological matters and we end up producing our own brand of “Protestant Pope’s.”
14. The focal-point of one man’s sermon tends to cause believers to feel incapable of handling the Word of God because the impression is given (however subtle it might be) that only the eloquent and seminary trained “professionals” can undertake such things as preaching and teaching. The entire aura of preaching a “sermon” is very intimidating and many career preachers are more concerned with how they communicate than with what is communicated. A bad morning for such pulpiteers is not a failure to teach the full-counsel of God, but a slip-up of the tongue or in mispronouncing a word!
15. Directly connected to the traditional sermon concept, is the practice of limiting corporate instruction to one gifted pastor (usually the “senior pastor”). But in contrast to our inherited traditions, the New Testament never limits public teaching to one pastor (regardless of how eloquent he may be) nor is it limited to those who serve as church overseers, but may include gifted teachers who may have no desire to serve in the eldership (Acts 13:1; Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:29; 14:26). Continue Reading…
7. In order to better facilitate learning within our churches, pastors should begin to implement a Q&A period after the sermon on what was just taught. What would be wrong in allowing a stimulating time for questions, comments, or even disagreements?
What better way could there be in helping people to learn and remember what the pastor had so earnestly labored to teach? If we really want to see the saints equipped for ministry (Ephesians 4:12) and to present every person complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28), why would we ignore or even reject such an effective and biblical means of communication? Do we truly believe that the Sunday morning sermon is to be a learning experience?
The important point is that the Bible example indicates the need for two-way communication in those instances when we expect comprehension, acceptance, and commitment to take place. We also know that there is a steady increase of accuracy as feedback is increased. Therefore, for one to establish comprehensive and complete communication, for one to discover and transmit the truths of Scripture and the content of the Christian Gospel, monologue is not enough. A two-way flow of communication is essential (William Barlow, “Communicating the Gospel,” Searching Together [Vol. 21:1-4, 1993] p.57).
Unfortunately, many pastors will not allow it because they are threatened or intimidated by any form of return dialogue within a public setting. At least five reasons can account for this: (1) Return dialogue is offensive to the man who sees himself and his opinions as above the right of anyone to question, particularly when coming from mere “laymen”; (2) Return dialogue may expose the speaker to the possibility of embarrassing questions that he may not be able to answer. It may reveal that his studies and preparation were shallow. Continue Reading…
To question the “sermon” concept should not be equated with the mistaken notion that we do not need teaching or teachers within our churches. There are, however, some inherent problems and limitations with the traditional “sermon” idea. The following is a brief examination of some of those problems.
1. There exists a plethora of books on preaching and homiletics written by evangelicals, but the overwhelming majority of them merely assume and perpetuate the sermon concept. Rarely, if ever, is there any real analysis or investigation as to its legitimacy.
2. The very notion of a formal and professionalized “sermon” comes not from the New Testament, but from Greek culture. With the rise of the Constantinian mass church (4th century A.D.), all sorts of paganistic and Greek ideas entered into Christian thought and practice. One of those practices brought into the church was that of Greek rhetoric. With the conversion of such men as Chrysostom, Ambrose, Tertullian, Cyprian, Arnobius, Lactantius, and Augustine – all of whom were trained in rhetoric and were quite popular as orators within the Greco-Roman culture of their day prior to their conversion – a new style or form of communication began to occur within Christian assemblies (it is interesting to note that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:17,22 and 2:1-5, refused to allow the communication patterns of his pagan contemporaries to dictate the form or manner of his delivery).
This new form of speech was marked by polished rhetoric, sophisticated grammar, and an undue emphasis on eloquence. Corporate teaching, within many congregations, was no longer delivered in normal or raw language, but began to take on an artistic form of expression. In some instances, the content of the teacher’s message was less influenced by biblical truth and more by abstract Greek philosophy. Continue Reading…
Before we get to your current life, can you tell us, what has been the most enduring and positive legacy of your book, “Pagan Christianity?”
George Barna: The book has helped many people to open their minds to the fact that the organized, localized, congregational form of ministry commonly known in the west as “the church” is a human construct that was neither dictated by God nor described or found in the Bible. In that sense I think the greatest legacy of the book, based primarily on Frank’s extensive research, is giving people an awareness of the truth about the history of the modern local church body and the tremendous possibilities for more meaningful ministry experiences and expressions.
Frank Viola: One of the most enduring qualities (and effects) of the book is that it has given millions of Christians permission – biblical and historical permission – to question cherished church practices and traditions in the light of God’s written Word. It has effectively driven many believers – including pastors – to reexamine the way they practice church in view of New Testament principles and church history.
Since I have a very high view of Scripture, I count that as a positive thing. It’s also given many Christians a new appreciation for those believers in the past (like the Anabaptists) who dared to challenge the religious establishment of their day on the basis of Scripture. In this regard, the Reformation has never ended, including the Radical Reformation of the Anabaptists.
As John Stott famously said, “The hallmark of an authentic evangelicalism is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions, but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh biblical scrutiny and, if necessary, reform.” I believe the local church is highly important to God and His purpose. Our book merely demonstrates that the local church has (in many cases) been redefined and reinvented outside of scriptural lines. Thus restoration is needed.